Fans at New York Comic Con were lucky enough to get a sneak peak at the pilot episode of BBC America’s upcoming series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Based on the book series by Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently is a spin on your average cop show—
—that’s a lie, it is nothing like your average cop show. It is staggeringly fun, however, and an exciting addition to the BBCA lineup.
The show begins with a window into the life of Todd Brotzman (played with just the right blend of innocence and frustration by Elijah Wood). Todd’s life is basically a trash heap of bad luck—ill sister, fatiguing job, terrifying landlord, and no social circle to speak of. Then, in the space of one day, everything proceeds to go horribly strange… and even more wrong.
Enter Dirk Gently (expertly brought to life by Samuel Barnett), the manic, overeager, somehow doubly sincere and entirely off-putting “holistic” detective that Todd hasn’t been looking for his entire life. It matters little what Todd wants, though, because Dirk has divined that Todd is his new assistant, and that’s simply how things are going to be from now on.
Todd does protest. Fiercely.
Add in some cops who are very adept at eyebrow-raising, sinister agents, one very odd murder, a missing persons case, literal home-wreckers, and a “holistic” assassin who seems to have found herself an assistant of her own, and you somehow have a desperately fun television show. Dirk Gently has a multitude of strengths to recommend it—an excellent cast, a perfectly odd soundtrack, sharp editing, and a clear love for its source material.
Regarding that source material, this may be the most on point live action work that’s ever been produced from the writing of Douglas Adams (aside from his episodes of Doctor Who, of course). The show never makes the mistake of confusing Adams’s inherent strangeness and genius sense of humor for whimsy or anything else so neat. (Whimsy has its place, but not with Douglas Adams.) The show has a modern sensibility to be sure, but there’s nothing pre-packaged or mainstream about it. It is ineffable and sly, just as it should be.
Showrunner and writer Max Landis confirmed that desire in the panel after the screening, claiming that he only agreed to take on the project if he could maintain that Adams-type sheen: “If I’m doing Dirk Gently, I’m not going to do just-the-tip Douglas Adams, the way that adaptations always go—just a millimeter weird. I’m going full weird, I’m going crazy.” He got the green light and ran with it, and that dedication shows across the first episode.
At the heart of the series is Gently’s self-described holistic methods of detection—being that he waits for pieces of his cases to fit together because “everything is connected,” and forgoes any manner of tried and true detection. The first episode itself is full of these little threads, tying the plot together so deftly that it simultaneously keeps the viewer intrigued and encourages them to take on Dirk’s worldview. Todd’s insistence on keeping his feet on the ground only eggs the audience on further, inviting them further down the rabbit hole.
Despite Todd’s anger at the idea of being Dirk’s “Watson,” Elijah Wood and Samuel Barnett are an excellent match, bouncing frantically off one another even in the early (and decidedly rough) stages of their relationship. Todd’s sister Amanda (Hannah Marks), who suffers from a fictitious disease that causes vivid hallucinations and pain, is an interesting counterpoint to that dynamic, and the mysterious holistic assassin Bart Curlish (Fiona Dourif) is wicked fun to watch.
The show is filmed for the U.S. (it’s set in Seattle, Washington), and pulls in a lot of stellar talent that viewers are sure to recognize. Genre fans will see many familiar faces, including actors from Supernatural and Battlestar Galactica. There are plenty of questions left on the table by the end of episode one, enough to keep the whole train moving. If you’re looking for something fresh, funny, a bit gruesome and happily odd, this is where it’s at.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency will premiere on October 22, on BBC America. Get a sneak peak here.